A Novel Start to a Novel: “Working With Mark”

This week, we hear from senior English major and Clark Writes editor, Tom Matthews. The piece, posted below, contains the opening passage of the novel Matthews is currently working on. Through well crafted story telling and great dialogue, Matthews paints a picture of Mark, someone you will definitely want to read more about.

Working With Mark

Tom Matthews

A car driving by outside startled me. I was sitting on the living room couch, with the window open waiting for Mark. He was running late. We were supposed to be working on an old truck he was selling me. But he probably got tied up at the bar trying to woo a girl. This was a favorite hobby of his, wooing girls. And he was damn good at it. I never understood how because he’s an overweight hairy guy with a loud mouth. But he could talk, and he knew it. He told you what you wanted to hear. His tongue was magic.

He finally showed up and honked twice. It was one in the morning but he didn’t care about waking anyone up. I got in his car and we headed to his house. He was pretty drunk. He actually didn’t even have a valid license, it was suspended. I remember the first time I drove with him he had a 40 oz in the cup holder and said “Brass balls huh?” He had about three warrants out for him too. He wasn’t drinking now, but I could smell it on his breath.

“How’s school going?” he said.

“It’s good I guess, can’t wait to be done.”

“You getting good grades?” he asked.

“Yeah, I think I’m doing pretty well.”

“You fucking better be. You got the world by the balls with this college shit, don’t fuck it up. Take it from a world class fuck up.”

His head turned and he was looking at me now.

“I’m serious you can do whatever the fuck you want, don’t fuck it up.”

“I won’t,” I replied.

“Good. I almost killed my son when he got kicked out of college. I don’t want him to end up like me. You kids don’t realize what you have.”

I hated when my parents gave me these kinds of talks, but it was different with Mark. He had stories. Stories that scared the shit out of me. So when I told him of my grades, two A’s and two B’s, he asked me why the two B’s weren’t A’s. I didn’t have an answer. An unsettling feeling of disappointment swept over me.  A man drunk driving with three warrants out for him just made me feel stupid. I hated that feeling.

We got to his house around quarter of two. Mark was always working during the day, either at the sporting goods store where we worked at together or doing odd jobs for people he knew so nighttime was the only time we could work on it. We pulled up to the front of his house, it was a small complex like thing with two other apartments attached on both sides.  The truck was parked right in front. I was buying it off him for nine hundred dollars. He said he was tight on cash otherwise he’d be keeping it. He bought it off his neighbor who also was a loud mouth not quite as functioning drunk. He sold it to Mark because he was tight on cash. The neighbor came out to check out who was gonna be the honorary owner of the rusting beast. He told me any drugs I found in it were mine. They made for great neighbors. Just as I was beginning to take a good look at the truck, out came Mark’s wife with a fury of hell in her.

“Where the hell have you been it’s almost two in the goddamn morning?!”

“What? You can’t even greet our guest? How rude of you,” Mark replied.

I chuckled, but stifled my grin when I saw she wasn’t laughing.

“I called you six times and you don’t pick up once. What’s her name, Mark?”

“Jesus, Amy I was at the bar with Gary, for Christ’s sake, can you go inside?”

Mark looked at me. I stared back at him blankly.

“We were at the bar, right? With Gary?” He asked me with his left arm sticking out and palm facing upwards as if he were trying to transmit the answer he wanted from him to me.

“Uh, yeah we were,” I mumbled and nodded my head.

“You’re ridiculous,” she yelled and slammed the door.

Mark lit a cigarette, and I leaned on the truck in silence. I had just lied to a married woman about where her husband was in the late of night. I felt nauseous.

After Amy went in Mark and I worked on the truck for about an hour. Or mostly Mark did. I just handed him tools when he asked me to. I wanted to ask him what it was like to be married to someone you don’t love. Why not just leave? Wouldn’t the kids be happier instead of being burdened with their game of house. I silenced those thoughts and instead asked to use his bathroom.

“You mind if I use your bathroom?” I asked.

“Sure. Head in. You’ll see it. Try not to get lost.”

I went inside and found Amy sitting at the kitchen table sitting alone, smoking a cigarette.

“Hi, excuse me, could you point me in the direction of the bathroom?”

She looked up at me and blowing smoke out of her mouth replied, “Second door on your left.”

“Thanks.”

Inside the bathroom I met a smiling family encased in wooden frames that hung on the walls. There were two young boys, with parents standing behind them with their hands on their shoulders, proudly displaying the product of their love. I imagined the kids trying to climb out to get free.

I washed my hands and headed back towards the kitchen. Amy was still sitting at the table smoking.

“Those are some nice pictures there in the bathroom,” I said.

“Oh, thank you honey. That’s sweet of you,” she replied, as she ashed her cigarette. “I can’t remember the last time we took a family picture. The boys are much bigger now.”

“What’re their names?”

“The oldest is Mark, after his father, and the younger is Tyler.”

Tears began to well up in her eyes. “Do you have a girlfriend, honey?” She asked me while wiping a tear that was slowly rolling down her right cheek.

“No, I don’t.”

“Well, when you find yourself one, make sure you treat her right. And when you marry make sure you go home before the sun sets.”

When I went back out, Mark had finished up with the truck. He handed me the keys and told me her to treat her well. I started the truck up and drove home.

I didn’t see Mark again until the following Monday at work. I was putting together a new gondola to stock  new product on when Mark came up to me and greeted me.

“What’s up, faggot?”

Mark wasn’t aware that this word has been dropped out of almost everyone’s vocabulary by now except for the most offensive douchebags.

“Just trying to build this stupid gondola.”

“Aw poor baby, has to build a big gondola. Why don’t you stop crying and build the damn thing?”

“I’m not crying.”

“Sounds like it to me.”

“Just shut up and give me a hand.”

“Fuck you. I’ve got a bunch of shit I gotta do myself.”

“Alright get out of here then.”

Mark started picking up pieces of the gondola and began putting them together. He loved doing this, giving you a hard time about helping you, but he always does.

We finished the gondola and headed over to the bike section. Mark worked in the bike section, which is located in the back of the store, kind of tucked away from everything else. It was perfect for hiding from customers and talking with Mark. The bike section is where he shared his stories of debauchery and despair.

“Your tailgate is ready,” Mark said to me as he was fastening a bike up on a lift to work on it.

“About time.”

“Get dropped off tonight after you’re out. I got something to show you.”

“What?”

“Nothing. Shut up. You’ll see.”

I rolled my eyes and shook my head.

“I found something on my bike ride through the woods this morning,” he let on, but he wouldn’t tell me anything else. He liked messing with people’s heads.

I got dropped off at his house around 11pm. I walked into the kitchen and found Mark sitting in the same chair Amy sat in last Friday night smoking and suffering over the thought of her husband’s whereabouts in the dark of night. Mark was smoking a cigarette and downing a bottle of wine. There was a strong odor in the air and it wasn’t his cigarette. It was the most recognizable smell there is. Ma ruh jew wanna. He started laughing. “I wasn’t even smoking grass.”  I looked at him confused. There were two huge eight gallon trash bags sitting on the counter and one on the floor.

“You’re kidding,” I said.

“Come take a whiff.”

I walked over and slightly lifted a corner of one of the bags on the counter and lowered my face. I immediately started coughing.

“Holy shit.”

Mark dragged on his cigarette and started laughing.

“Where the hell did you get this?”

“I was riding my bike through the woods by Purgatory Chasm off of Route 146 and found it growing off to the side of the path.”

He ashed his cigarette and lit another.

“I called my buddy and told him to get up here as quick as he could with trash bags, and we filled them up and dropped ‘em off here before I went into work.”

“Jesus. So what’re you gonna do with all this?”

“The fuck you mean what am I gonna do with all this?” I could tell he was starting to feel drunk. His eyes were starting to get that lazy droop in them and his voice was getting more gentle. His words were still violent, but his voice was more gentle.

“I’m gonna keep a pound to smoke myself, and sell the rest.”

I shook my head.

“Wanna help me?” he asked.

I laughed.

“What? Unless you’re raking in the dough from selling soccer balls, I thought you could use some extra cash.”

“I could.”

“Good. You can help me start cutting this shit up.”

“Can I think about it? Let’s grab some beers and talk about it. I’ll drive.”

It was weird with Mark in the passenger seat. He was still captain of the ship though, and directed me to one of his local spots.

We pulled up in front of a shabby bar with a sign in front that read “3 G’s”. There was a neon Miller Lite sign hanging in the front window. A tall man dressed in black stood out front smoking a cigarette.

“Keep to yourself here. These guys don’t mess around.”

“I thought we were just grabbing some beers?” I asked.

“Yeah, just don’t look at anyone like you would at one of your college bars. You may be tough there, but don’t try that shit here.” Mark put his arm on my shoulder. “Alright, you ready?”

We got out of the car and headed in.

The barroom was small and dimly lit. Rugged looking men were standing around with pool sticks engaged in close conversation. Mark and I pulled up some stools at the bar. To my right was a fat guy with a balding head in a black hoody. He was talking loudly to the guy to the right of him. A young bartender who couldn’t of been more than twenty five years old came over and leaned on the wooden bar top.

“What can I get you?” she asked.

Mark ordered a Bud Light.

“Gross,” I said, and turning to the bartender, “I’ll have a Guinness.”

“Fucking snob, ‘I’ll have a Guinness,’” said Mark, mocking me.

The fat guy next to me started to pipe up again.

“The fucking cunt cut me off, and I slammed on my brakes, but it was too late and I crashed into the back of her. So she comes out all upset and looks at her bumper and starts crying. So I get out to ask her for her insurance and couldn’t get a damn word in. The bitch was in hysterics, you should’ve seen her, Christ.”

The guy next to him was nodding in agreeance as his friend retold the story. The bartender walked over and was now in front of the fat guy, turned around, bending over to grab a glass. The fat guy gave his friend a tap on the arm and motioned for him to look. I took  a big sip of my beer.

Mark got up and said, “I’m gonna go see what’s going on at these pool tables, you gonna be okay? Daddy’s just gonna be a few feet away.”

“Yes, I’ll be fine,” I said.

“Good. Order another Guinness and relax. You always look so uptight.”

Mark walked away. I knew he was right. I have a hard time relaxing. But it’s not my fault. It’s half my brain’s fault and half sitting next to guys like the one on my right. I finished my beer and ordered another.

The fat guy continued his story.

“So I got a call from the bitch’s insurance, and she’s trying to say she’s not at fault.”

“Not at fault?!” He yelled. “She fucking cut me off, the stupid bitch.”

I took a sip of my beer, and turned on my stool to face him.

“Hey buddy, that’s no way to talk in front of a woman. Watch your mouth.”

The fat guy turned his head and looked at me.

“What the fuck did you say to me?”

“I said watch your mouth. You’re in public. Have some respect.”

“Why don’t you mind your own business, kid. No one’s talking to you.”

“I’m trying to but all I can hear is you, and I don’t think the bartender wants to hear you either.”

“Look kid, I don’t know who you think you are, but no one tells me to…”

I stood up and walked over to the side of his stool, and extending my right arm said, “I’m Joe, and I’m telling you to shut your mouth.”

Two guys who both must have been over 6’3 surrounded me. I recognized one as the guy that was out front smoking when we pulled up.

“Get out,” he said to me.

“No, I’m not finished teaching my buddy some manners.”

The tall guy grabbed me by the shoulders.

Mark caught wind of the situation and came over hollering, “Hey, hey! What’s the problem?”

“This guy. Is he with you?” asked the tall guy.

“Yes, yes he is. What’s he doing? Run ya dry?”

“Butting into other people’s business,” said the fat guy, who was still sitting on his stool.

“I’m sorry,  guys he’s got attachment issues. Can’t be left alone for a while without acting out,” said Mark as he put his arm around my shoulders. “I’ll take care of him, I got it guys.”

The two tall guys walked away.

With his arm still around my shoulders, Mark walked me over to a stool at the other end of the bar.

“What the fuck is wrong with you? I told you to keep to yourself.”

“I’m sorry this guy was talking horribly about women and the bartender was close by, and I couldn’t sit there and not say anything.”

“What guy?”

“The fat guy that I was sitting next to.”

Mark turned around to look over.

“That guy’s the fucking owner you idiot.”

“Him?” I asked pointing.

“Don’t point! For Christ’s sake put your arm down. But yes him. You just mouthed off to the owner. Way to go.”

I laughed.

“You think that’s funny?”

I did.

“You’re lucky you didn’t get your face smashed in. Jesus, I can’t leave you alone for two seconds.”

“You picked a shitty bar.”

“They have beer, don’t they?”

“Yeah, I need another.”

“You gonna keep your mouth shut?”

“Yeah, yeah buy me a beer for Christ’s sake.”

We got up and walked back over to the other end of the bar. The fat guy was gone now. We sat down on the same stools as before.

“Guinness?” asked the bartender, smiling.

“Uh, yes. Please.”

She poured the draft and placed it in front of me on a coaster. She leaned over and said, “Don’t worry, I think he’s an ass too.”


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